Jan van Kessel (Antwerp 1626 – Antwerp 1679)

Hermes giving his inventions to mankind
40 x 53.5 cm (15 ³/₄ x 21 inches)

(Antwerp 1626 – 1679)
Mercury distributing his inventions to men
Oil on canvas, 40 x 54 cm
Signed lower left “JKessel

Provenance: Sale Ader Picard Tajan, Paris, 26/04/1993. Private collection, France.

Literature: Klaus Ertz, Die maler Jan van Kessel, Luca Verlag, Lingen, 2012, p. 387, cat. 707.

Grandson of Jan Brueghel de Velours on his mother’s side, nephew of Jan Brueghel the Younger and David Teniers, Jan van Kessel was influenced more by his grandfather and uncle than by his apprenticeship with Simon de Vos. He specialised in painting animals, birds, amphibians and insects, which he used in paintings representing the four elements and the four parts of the world (in the museums of Cambridge, Madrid, Munich, Prague and Strasbourg), allegories, fables and very small cabinet pieces.
At a time when the spirit of the Baroque was being infused by Rubens, Jan van Kessel remained faithful to the technique of the Ghent-Bruges school and followed in the footsteps of the old miniaturists. He did not seek to renew a genre, but rather to perfect it. While remaining in the tradition of his grandfather, Jan Brueghel de Velours, Jan van Kessel went even further. At a time when the art of the Flemish still life was flourishing, with its depictions of small animals pilfering among piles of foodstuffs, our artist decided to paint more exotic species of animal, rarely seen by city dwellers. He painted more and more depictions of rare animals from India and America, as well as local species that had hitherto received little attention from Flemish artists, such as butterflies, frogs, lizards and other entomological curiosities.
Jan Van Kessel’s works can be seen in over forty-five museums. A talented painter, as much for his mastery of the brush as for the eclecticism of the themes he tackled, Jan van Kessel’s work shows him to be an artist of great sensitivity and astounding precision.
In ancient Greek religion, Hermes (Ἑρμῆς / Hermễs in Greek, Ἑρμᾶς / Hermãs in Dorian) is one of the deities of Olympus. He is the messenger of the gods, principally Zeus, in the same capacity as Iris, giver of good fortune, inventor of weights and measures, guardian of roads and crossroads, god of travellers, merchants, thieves and orators. He leads souls to the Underworld. He plays an important role in Greek mythology, appearing in many myths. His Latin equivalent is Mercury.
He invented the production of fire by friction. In so doing, he gave fire to mankind, a function comparable to that of Prometheus.
He also invented the zither, which he gave to Apollo. He also invented the panpipes, reflecting his pastoral origins.
Of all the Greek gods, he is the closest to mankind and the most benevolent towards them.

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